What is it about Alexanders and their no good days?
One of my favorite books from my childhood is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. In that story, Alexander has one of those days wherein nothing goes right and he is his own worst enemy. Little kids find themselves in the story, have a good laugh and appreciate a sweet ending. I do love that book!
Jill Morgan, owner of Purple House Press, sent Alexander by Harold Littledale to me last fall because she loved the Littledale Alexander and was thrilled to be able to reprint it. I am so glad that she did. Dare I say it? I think this Alexander story pleases me (and my kids) more than the Viorst story. While the Viorst story is more realistic (and dated – it is clearly set in the 1980s), this one is more endearing. In the Viorst story, Alexander is a little boy who has one of those bad days that every kid can relate to.
In the creative Littledale story, Alexander is a red horse with green stripes who happens to be the imaginary friend of a little boy named Chris. As they are saying goodnight, Chris tells his father that, “Alexander was a pretty bad horse today.” In a tone that reminds me of Ward Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver, Chris’s father asks Chris to tell him all about it. When Chris is finished recounting all of the “bad” things Alexander has done, he cuddles up close to his father and asks, “Daddy, what are we going to do about Alexander? He’s awfully bad sometimes.” And this is where it gets downright adorable.
Again, in a voice like Ward Cleaver’s, Chris’s fathers asks Chris what he thinks they should do about Alexander. In true little boy fashion, Chris imagines all kinds of wild punishments for Alexander: they should turn the dining room table into a jail, or they could tie Alexander up to his bed, and finally, he suggests that they should tell Alexander to go away and never come back. Each time, Chris’s father has a great response explaining that those suggestions just won’t do. When Chris presses his father for a solution, Chris’s father stands up and says, “I’m going to think about that while I fix this fire engine.”
What happens next is such a beautiful depiction of fatherhood. Chris’s father fixes the fire engine, returns it to Chris, and tells Chris that he has decided that “(Alexander) just had a bad day… and I think that anybody can have a bad day once in a while… you wait, Alexander will be a wonderful little horse tomorrow… and you’ll be a wonderful little boy, too.”
And then, my favorite part:
Chris giggled. “How did you know I wasn’t very nice today?” he asked.
“His father turned out the light in the hall. ‘Alexander told me,’ he said.”
If I were to have judged this book by its cover, I probably wouldn’t have read it. My boys, however, love the cover. What I saw as being red and green and sort of moody, they ignored and focused on the little boy pointing at the horse with untied shoes and thought that it was hilarious. They had to know more.
The illustration in this book adds so much to the story. And it gives us a clue as to what is really going on. Very rarely are Chris and Alexander seen together in a picture. Vroman’s illustration hints that Alexander is a stand-in for Chris.
Picture books are costly to buy because they are costly to print. They are, however, wonderful gifts to give. As always, with Purple House Press, the printing is exquisite. This hardback is solid, the pages are thick and silky, and the colors are rich and vibrant. The father in this book is a great character and a worthy role model. Because of his tenderness and wisdom, I plan to use this book as standard baby shower book basket gift. I want my friends to have a wonderful “dad book” in their libraries.